Wednesday, April 30, 2014

'Pendent Glorybower', Clerodendrum wallichi

 Clerodendrum wallichi syn C nutans (Verbenaceae)
A shrub 'designed' for a tropical downpour somewhere in India or Pakistan. Rain flowing down the channel of the linear-lanceolate leaves and out over the curved 'drip tip' while the enchanting flowers are floating free in a loose panicle protected individually by a sturdy calyx which changes colour from lime to coral as it ages. It's the 'Foot-long Sub' of flowering plants and these creamy white five petaled butterfly 'fans' have whiskery stamens which make them even more alluring. Phew!
 And now for the bad news. This is not a particularly hardy shrub outside the tropics. I have never grown it in the ground as from my past experience of growing it as a pot plant, it forgets to awake from a winter hibernation and remains leafless till early summer. During this dormancy it is vulnerable to root rot especially if it gets cold and wet, or if a wind chill factor brings the temperature very low. It requires a warm sheltered garden spot with moderately moist fertile soil which has been enriched with compost and kept free of weeds with thick mulch or leaf litter.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata

 Sweet Cicely 
 Myrrhis odorata (Umbelliferae)
I have Buckley's chance of being able to grow this herb well but it is worth a shot. I bought this at the recent Collectors' Plant Fair and a lady next to me who was buying one also told me she was from Bathurst so she has a much better crack at growing it successfully.
 Sweet Cicely is a European shade loving perennial which is stimulated to grow well by a certain amount of snow cover over winter. Move to Scotland I hear you say? Snow has the effect of scarifying any fallen seed thus aiding germination and when the snow melts the trigger for growth is manifest. It is said to be the last herb to die down before winter with the foliage first reacting to the cold by turning purple. As a flavouring herb Cicely has a mild sweet flavour of aniseed or liquorice. All parts are edible including the roots which can be cooked as a vegetable. I have a 'food memory' of it from over thirty years ago. When visiting Madge Hooper at Stoke Lacey Herb Farm in Bromyard, Herefordshire, I was given the green seeds to chew on. They were sweet and very pleasant tasting. It has been a long wait to finally get my hands on a plant for however long I am able to keep it alive.

Friday, April 25, 2014


 Teaching the sport of springboarding
 In Germaine Greer's book 'White Beech - The Rainforest Years' (Bloomsbury 2014) we are given a remarkable historical account of the timber getting industry in South East Queensland as recalled by Bernard O'Reilly of 'Green Mountain' fame and the dangers associated with the use of the springboard which came to be used because trees were unable to be cut down from the ground owing to their flanged or buttressed trunks, a characteristic of many rainforest trees. The springboard is made of light wood, four foot long and a foot wide and it has at one end a steel tip which is inserted into a horizontal slot cut into the tree and "on this narrow rocking perch the settler swings his razor-edged axe, sometimes twenty or even thirty feet from the ground, then as the tree begins to go, he must descend swiftly, bringing not only his axe but his springboard."(O'Reilly) Many lost their lives or were seriously injured in the process. As Greer explains, "the O'Reilly boys all at one time or another sustained terrible injuries from their own axes. Ped and Herb both severed leg tendons; Pat buried his axe in his abdomen; Norb stitched a cut on his leg with needle and cotton.' By way of variation on the self-injury theme, Mick fell from his springboard and was impaled on a spike."
The wood chopping events held at Agricultural Shows across Australia are a reminder of these timber industry pioneers.

 White Beech timber from the rainforest tree Gmelina leichhardtii (Lamiaceae) It is 'highly resistant to decay in ground contact or in persistently damp or ill-ventilated situations' and in the early 1900's it was used for building frames, as well as flooring, lining, mouldings, joinery and cladding.'
'There is now no White Beech timber to be had anywhere' (Greer)

By Ashley Sewell
Department of Natural Resources Queensland, 1997

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'James Stirling'

 Pittosporum tenuifolium 'James Stirling' (Pittosporaceae)
The down side of a quick growing screening plant like this one is that it may end up being short lived and you are back to square one after just a few years. This plant has the reputation of suddenly turning up its toes especially in warm humid climates or when grown in heavy soils. One by one in a row they will go down without a fight. Of course the appeal of this shrub is the very fine foliage of silvery green clothing the black stems, though this is best when the plants are just a couple of metres tall, as mature specimens, of five metres or more, often become sparse of leaves and reveal a grey trunk and a tarnished sheen. 
A newer cultivar called 'Golf Ball', with its self explanatory name, is worth growing for those who like that touch of glossy silver in the garden on a neat compact plant. It makes an ideal container specimen or as a substitute for Buxus as a low border hedge, though, again, in warm climates it is probably better planted in a raised garden bed or planter box.
2017 update: Evidence suggests that cultivar 'Golf Ball' may revert to being a tall grower.

Allamanda cathartica 'Floreoplena'

 Allamanda cathartica 'Floreoplena' (Apocynaceae)
This double flowered Allamanda has been in flower for months and is showing no sign of slowing down in bud production. It seems to like growing against a brick wall which retains some heat long after the sun has set. I grow a number of different varieties grouped together in pots and they remain happy to grow in this way without becoming stressed by being pot bound. The double form has a number of cultivars including 'Halley's Comet' and 'Stansill's Double', though most seem to be lumped together under the name 'Williamsii' which is described as being both a semi double or a large single. Please explain? It is also described as having fragrant flowers though this is too subtle for me to notice.Perhaps more noticeable at night?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Justicia brandegeeana 'Fruit Cocktail'

 Justicia brandegeeana 'Fruit Cocktail' (Acanthaceae)
'Shrimp Plant'
Fruit cocktail? Make mine with lime, pineapple and coconut on a warm sunny beach.
I acquired this shrub recently from the garden of horticulturist Helen Curran. It has the typical shrimp plant form of being a lax shrub to about 30cm high with all stems topped with flowers weighing down the branches. Outside the tropics shrimp plants do quite well in full sun and this has the effect of strengthening the stems and making them not quite so floppy. I like to grow plants 'hard' to get a more robust garden worthy plant by giving them lots of sun and less water. Because these Justicia flower most of the year it is difficult to get enough cutting material from which to propagate more plants and thus I assume this is the reason why this variety has not become more commercially well known. I love the colour combination of this, probably best described as Venetian red flowers emerging from chartreuse bracts.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Golden Girl'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Golden Girl'
This is a tall growing bushy Australian bred Hibiscus. It was produced by Bert Hardy from a pod parent of 'Big Tango and a pollen parent of 'Monique Maria'. 
In Australia the term 'Golden Girl' is usually associated with the great Olympic athlete Betty Cuthbert.
I am currently out of stock

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Vanilla'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Vanilla'
This is another of the 'Klahanie Greenhouse' Hibiscus. I have the other varieties in the series and all have been bred with the smaller garden in mind and show attributes of compact growth and continuous flowering during the warmer months.This ivory white flower has a colour bleed of hot pink towards the centre which is very telling.
2017 update: I no longer have this Hibiscus

Agave americana 'Medio-Picta'

Agave americana 'Medio-Picta'
This Agave has been slow to grow for me, though now it measures about a metre in diameter mainly due to my re-potting it and giving it more attention this summer. Unlike its closest relative, the smaller growing variety 'Alba", it has been shy at producing offsets. 
This form differs from 'Alba' in colour with more cream to yellow leaves produced than white.
I have limited stock available for sale. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Agave attenuata sunburn

Sunburn on Agave attenuata
Fleshy leaved agaves often suffer burnt leaves following prolonged cloudy wet weather. The upward facing leaves become soft and full of water during rainy periods and are unable to cope with the effects of returning strong sunlight. They usually take some months to recover from this phenomenon during which time many people discard them thinking they will never improve in appearance. It's just one of those weather related things over which we have no control. Agave attenuata will tolerate some shade so the problem can be minimized to some extent though growth in shade tends to be lax and not as robust.
The comment below by reader Craig puts it much more succinctly than I. Thanks Craig

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ludwigia longifolia, Long-leaf Willow Primrose

Ludwigia longifolia
  Long-leaf willow primrose
The appearance the other day of a large flock of pelicans circling overhead was an awe inspiring sight. Were they looking for a spot to land on nearby Lake Illawarra or did they have their sights set on somewhere further down the coast? Gardening in a location frequented by migratory water birds means you get the occasional appearance of weeds which have been deposited by these feathered friends. Long-leaf willow primrose has become one of the more serious weed species which is making its mark on our environment by displacing native vegetation. Most of my weed books don't even mention so it has obviously spread and become more serious as the years have gone by since its introduction as an aquarium or water garden plant. (It is South American in origin). You know it is serious when the advice given if you find it growing in your garden or property is to burn it or bury it deeply. Here is the link for the full story:
 Weed Profile: Long-leaf willow primrose | NSW Department of Primary Industries